Spiritual Messages and Teachings for LDS Youth and Youth Leaders

Gambling, Where is the Wisdom?

By: Stephen L. Richards

Now I have been just a little bit concerned about the subject for this occasion, and I thought I would take the chance of choosing for my subject, “Gambling,” which I suppose is a real chance on the maintenance of your interest. The reason that I choose this subject is because over many years of observation I have seen the effects on human character which come from indulgence in this prevalent practice in the world today.

I think my attention was first called most forcefully to it many years ago when two young men, working in one of the establishments with which I was associated, suddenly had a terrific experience. These two young men were smart, apparently successful. Each of them had a small family with the beginnings of a good home—good wives, and every prospect for reasonable success. Almost overnight something overtook them. They were both arrested to the great shock of their associates and the whole community. The case became notorious, and I will not try to revive it by bringing names or such definite circumstances before you as to identify these young men.

The tragedy was felt, of course, primarily by their families, and then by their intimate friends and associates who trusted them. They were sent to prison, served long terms at Leavenworth for offenses in violation of national statutes. Their whole lives, of course, were blasted, and those of their families. Disgrace came to many innocent people. I felt particularly sorry for the young wives because the disgrace that accumulated upon them was most difficult to bear.

How did this tragedy come about? Through gambling. They began their ventures, we afterwards learned, in a small way. They made gains, and they made losses, and then, thinking that they could improve their positions rather rapidly, they began taking money from the institution for which they were working.

It so happened with them, as in many other cases, that they had a master mind to lead them—a bright, keen, clever, unscrupulous fellow who had influence with them.

The institution for which these men worked, after the tragedy that followed their pilfering, which amounted to an enormous sum of money, said, in substance, to all of its employees: “If we catch any one of you in any form of gambling, we will not even ask any questions, we will discharge you. We cannot afford to subject the assets of this institution to the care and custody of people who have taken up this habit.”

Now, gambling is based on an erroneous concept, entirely at variance with anything that resembles sound business. The basis of all legitimate business is a fair exchange of values—honest work for honest pay, goods of value for other goods of value, exchanges—for, after all, currency is only a medium of exchange. The paper that we so much covet, after all, has no intrinsic value. It is only what it represents in terms of exchange, and all sound business is based upon a fair exchange.

Gambling undermines this concept, and indulgence in it is one of the most treacherous things which can occur to a man’s character, and because it does occur to his character, to his prospects in business. Oftentimes the moral and spiritual effects are more important than the financial losses because gambling proceeds upon the assumption that one has to lose for another to gain. That is not a fair exchange of values. One wins at the expense of one who loses, and that is a wholly erroneous foundation for any kind of successful business.

Gambling does other things. It wrecks all stabilized plans. It wholly disturbs all budgets. You cannot have a budget and gamble because the results are altogether too unpredictable and unforseeable, depending entirely upon chance.

It leads the one who indulges in gambling to believe that chance is the controlling and dominant thing in life, and so obsessed do some people become with it that they cannot contemplate or think of any other way in which to increase their means and their income except by taking the chance that gambling affords.

Years ago I used to practise law, and I had some cases over in Reno, Nevada. The train used to come into Reno about four o’clock in the morning. I had been to bed, and when I got into Reno, I did not feel like going to another hotel before the day began; so in those days I would sometimes walk from the station, which was in the heart of town, over to some of these places that were open all night, and make observations.

At four o’clock in the morning I have seen men coming out of those places whose story I thought I could clearly read—miners who had come in from the nearby towns, with the accumulation of perhaps a month or two months’ hard work in their pockets, coming out with everything lost, wholly dispirited, stumbling, as they often did because many of them were under the influence of liquor, out into what looked to me a cold, gray morning of the night before.

I have seen, too, men and women around the tables in those days, bleary-eyed, sustaining themselves with their drinks, and going forward almost in a mechanical way with the operations of their games of chance. I have seldom seen people in whom there seemed to be less of a self-reliant, red-blooded disposition to make their way, people who sought by chance to win something that they had despaired of winning by fair and honest and hard work.

I remember once that I was going by Santa Anita on my way to a conference down in California. Some of the family were with me, and it was mid-afternoon. We had a little time on our hands in order to reach the first session of the conference, and we saw that race course there, crowded with automobiles.

We said, “Let’s go in and see.”

I did not see very much of the horses racing as I went into those stands and looked about me. My attention was drawn to the people. It was a weekday. The great preponderance of the people there that afternoon were women. These women did not seem to be enjoying it. They seemed to be anxious about the outcome of each race, and I observed that after every race nearly everyone went downstairs to the offices, either to renew their bets or perhaps to forfeit all that they had.

I could see in that crowd of women, as palpably and plainly as if the story had been written on each one, that these women were betting the rent money and the grocery money. And I could see from the serious aspect of their faces when they came back after losses that they were filled with apprehension, as well they might be.

I could see in prospect, too, quarrels and family disputes, possible separations, the hardship upon innocent children left in a home where people have separated, all the results of this gambling fever that seizes people so violently that when they once secure it, it is as difficult to throw off as is the habit of drinking or smoking, and perhaps more so.

In many other cases I have seen humanity depraved by this terrific, immoral habit which has fastened itself upon numerous people to such an extent that it is regarded as a great national problem, to deal with which all the ingenuity and resources of our whole country have been taxed.

States have been so eager to receive the proceeds that inure to them from taxes on this immoral business that they have legalized it in a number of states in the Union. You will find that the chief business in some of those states results from the patronage of those who are disposed to this vicious habit.

Now, gambling does not begin on the faro boards or these wheels. Gambling does not begin primarily at horse races or playing the bookies. I think that gambling begins in what seems to be, at the time, rather inoffensive, and not too important, ventures—the playing of the slot machines, the punching of the boards, in order to take the chance of getting more than could be bought with money. In these more or less innocent ventures there comes the development of that habit of getting something more quickly than by the kind of hard work that men are expected to give for the values which they earn. It is ruinous, my brethren and sisters; it is ruinous to character in many cases, and often is ruinous to chances for real success in honorable living.

What are our obligations? Certainly we must warn. After all, we are all watchmen upon the towers. Some of our presiding officers are special watchmen upon the towers, but we are all supposed to be watchmen upon the towers to see the incursion of ills among us, and to warn against them, and to teach against them, and to give concepts to our youth which are fundamentally sound, and which conform to the righteousness which the Lord has given to us and prescribed for our living.

So, I urge you, with reference to this one evil to see that the youth who come under your tutelage are rightly taught, to guard them against these evils, so that they may not be left without instruction and without safeguards against some of these hazards to their lives.

Making a living probably occupies a larger portion of our thinking and our ambition than anything else; making a living warrants our close attention because it makes provision for the family. It makes provision for education. It makes provision for our children themselves to learn the art of making a home and of carrying forward the lives which they must lead.

The Lord did not intend us to be a poverty-stricken people. One of the last sermons that I heard President Joseph F. Smith preach was over in the temple to a select company, and I remember distinctly his saying on that occasion, the Lord never intended the Latter-day Saints to be a poverty-stricken and destitute people. He intended that their goodness should entitle them to inherit the good things of earth if they were used properly. He intended that the training that they receive, and the honor imbedded within them should bring about reasonable business success.

He did not say that it could be accomplished without hard work and without the employment of all of the best ethical and sound methods which good men desire to employ.

Do not get the idea, my brothers and sisters, that we have a quarrel with wealth if it is legitimately acquired. It is the utilization of wealth which is often subject to criticism.

There is not a more important concept for us to teach to our youth than that we are trustees of the good things of the earth that the Lord permits to come to us. He, after all, is the owner of the earth’s supply. He is the Organizer of the universe, and if we prepare ourselves to receive an allotment from him by our work, by our skill, by our devotion, then that allotment should be regarded as a sacred trust.

58After all, in the final analysis, the farmer of this Church raises wheat for God; not that he gives every bit of it to the Lord, but that he utilizes that which he retains, after he has paid his tithes and offerings, for the legitimate purpose of building up the kingdom, and any business which does not, in the ultimate, contribute to the building up of the kingdom is not one worthy of our endeavor.

I think by that test you would readily say that this practice of which I have been speaking—gambling—is no contributor to the building up of the kingdom or of a divinely appointed society.

I believe, my brethren and sisters, that we can do a great service, particularly for the youth in whom we have such vital interest, if we endeavor, with all the power at our command, to take out of youth’s environment these insidious temptations to acquire this habit of gambling.

We have a good many communities in our own vicinity here in this area that look upon horse racing as being an entirely commendable sport, and I hear some of the advocates claim that after all it lends great encouragement to the breeding of fine animals. I love a beautiful horse. Who doesn’t? But let me tell you that when men become interested in horse racing from the stand-point of what it makes for them, they do not pay very much attention to the contours of a fine animal. They are thinking only of the winning propensities and what that animal may be successful in getting for their pockets in the loss of others. That is their predominant motive.

I believe that all of us would do well to discourage, in every way that we can, horse racing when it is conducted for betting purposes for the simple reason that it gives opportunities for and encouragement to a habit that is ruinous. While it may seem innocent at the time, it may develop with some into the wrecking of their very lives.

We have the slot machines among us. I had a man come to me from a neighboring state not long ago and say that they were one of the greatest menaces to the youth in their whole community; and then he told me of the strenuous efforts that they were putting forth to try and abolish them, and the discouragements that they had, and one of their chiefest discouragements is that they could not always get the cooperation of their own brethren, on whom they thought they ought to be able to rely.

Some of these protective measures have to be enacted into law in order to give youth protection, it is true, and that involves something of politics. But I do not think it is a wrong question to ask a prospective legislator or governor or executive, “How do you stand on gambling? To what lengths are you willing to go to protect the youth from the formation of this deadly habit?”

These are moral questions, and I believe that the financial aspects of them should be subordinated, entirely subordinated, to the good of the community.

It is unnecessary to say in this presence that, after all, good sound character is the essential ingredient for any measure of success. All over this country executives of high order are looking for men who have two things in combination—character and ability.

We are doing much to help build character. I am one who believes that the fundamentals of good character lie in an understanding of man’s place in the earth, and in his relationship to God, the Father, and to his fellow man, and to his acceptance of the great commandments which have come from the Ruler of the universe for the conduct of man. I am firmly persuaded that only by adherence to the righteous principles of conduct that have come to us from the Lord can we ever hope to have a society of peace, a society of law, and a society of order.

I would not venture to dwell upon this subject, my brothers and sisters, if I did not know what a regrettably large proportion of the young men down here at the point of the mountain come from your communities and went astray because of the adoption of some of these practices that are so dangerous. I would like to save others the fate that some of our boys down at the point of the mountain have come to, and I know that one of the ways to do it is to give them correct concepts right from the beginning and to urge parents to do likewise so that they grow up with an understanding of the truth about property, about business, about success in life.

Chance, after all, is a mighty poor substitute for work, and brains, and for devotion to a cause. There isn’t much of chance in this life. Some people say we take a chance of getting killed when we cross the street. Well, maybe we do, and maybe some of us go before we think it is our time, but I never say that death is untimely because I never know. I think there is only One in heaven who knows that, and I do not propose to substitute my judgment for his. So after all, I do not ascribe much to chance. The Lord has given us high purpose. We have spoken of it here today. The Lord has committed us to a great cause. If we are true to that cause, we need not be so very fearful about what betides, even though unforeseen by us.

I congratulate you upon the adoption of this wonderful theme, the power of example, than which there is no truer, more potent force, either for good or for evil. I think it is most regrettable to observe that throughout our whole land there are thousands of unfortunate youths today who are where they are because of the careless example, if not the premeditated example, of some man who had lost the Spirit of God and his allegiance to righteousness. I pity those men when at some distant time a young man may come to them and say, “I might have amounted to something in the land of America, but I looked to you, and you led me astray. You were a man of money. I thought I would like to be like you, and then I saw your careless, sensual ways, and I followed in those, too.” I pity the man who is rebuked like that, but that is the power of example.

On the other hand, the kind of example encouraged here today is the example more potent than anything else—to raise our youth to high living and to great ambition. I am grateful to think that you have chosen such an excellent theme.

I hope, of course, that with the great power of example that you will stimulate through your good work here in this organization, that you will likewise give fundamental concepts which will be the guideposts of these young folk during their lifetime. Do not ever forget that “knowledge is power” just as much today as it was when that old axiom was first uttered. The man with knowledge, with understanding, is in a position to accomplish more than the man without it. You have knowledge to give, and what precious knowledge it is, the knowledge of truth, the knowledge about life, the purpose of life, knowledge that makes us know why we are here, whence we came, and where we are going, knowledge that gives us as clear a vision as men can have—and infinitely more clear than many of these speculative philosophers have. I admire the scholarship of these learned men of the world, but whenever I see their theories leading to a point at variance with the simple revealed plan which the Lord has ordained for his children, I discount them.

There is one sure plan for us to follow, and we must learn the plan. I have heard you speak here in this meeting of service to others. You can perform no more valuable service for another than to implant in his mind a knowledge of the truth about life, and in his heart a conviction and a testimony of the divine source of that knowledge. You cannot perform any finer service for a man than that.

After all, we are all missionaries, and I find that I finally revert to that theme nearly always. We are all missionaries to carry forward our Father’s work, to bless our Father’s children with this priceless gem, the truth, as revealed in the restored gospel of God.

I think that one of the high purposes constantly to bear in mind is the purpose of being a missionary for God, in reclaiming his children, and bringing to them the high blessings that the Lord has vouchsafed to us.

The assignments of our auxiliaries vary a little bit, some emphasize teaching, some stress recreation—yet there is no aspect of your work, or any other work in the Church of God however materialistic it may seem which is not ultimately spiritual. I am glad to have seen that thought reflected here today. Every aspect of the work is spiritual. It all has spiritual significance, and the knowledge that we teach in the end has spiritual significance, and I only bring before you today a very seemingly materialistic and mundane principle because of the spiritual significance that I have seen in it.

After all, we interpret the gospel in terms of living, and as we live it, we learn the truth. Someone has well said we never really acquire a truth unless it effects a change in our lives, and I presume there is importance in that statement. So, as we teach the truth to change lives and set before all of our people an example worthy of imitation, we will do a great missionary work for the Lord, and our lives here at home will be as potent as are the works of the missionaries in the field, because, after all, our missionaries in the field are constantly confronted with the question, “How do the people live this gospel you teach? What kind of society do you have?” Unfortunately a few have been quite disappointed when they came to our local society with high expectations that have not been realized.

The Lord bless you, my brethren and sisters. I pray that he will give you the power through your exemplary living, through the knowledge that you acquire, through the great agency that has been set up for you, to bless the youth of this land as well as the Church, that the youth may be imbued with correct principles, that they may be alerted against these insidious and devious designs that will rob them of the finest things of their lives.

I pray that the Lord will bring power to you, and that every teacher may know and realize that he or she has an influence that will be endless, going down through generation after generation, because that is the progress that thoughts, ideals, always have.

I thank you for the opportunity of being with you. I bless you that you may achieve your highest goals. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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